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'The Simpsons' just featured a deaf voice actor and the use of ASL for the first time ever

Written by Loni Steele Sosthand, last week's episode was a groundbreaking first for the long-running series.

'The Simpsons' just featured a deaf voice actor and the use of ASL for the first time ever
Image Source: 20th Television

Last weekend, "The Simpsons" made history by featuring the series' first deaf voice actor, John Autry II. He voiced the character of Monk, marking the first time a deaf actor has voiced any character on the show in its almost 33-year history. The episode also included the first use of American Sign Language to ever be seen on the show. The episode, titled "The Sound of Bleeding Gums," followed daughter Lisa Simpson as she chased down the deaf son of her favorite saxophone player, Bleeding Gums Murphy, to help him get a cochlear implant. Viewers would have seen sequences of ASL throughout the episode, PEOPLE Magazine reports.


"It is so incredible," Autry said in an interview about his work on the show. "It is life-changing equality and participation. This can impact change for all of us. It is about hard of hearing and hearing characters coming together. It is a part of history." The episode was written by Loni Steele Sosthand, who joined "The Simpsons" crew in 2020. She grew up with jazz music as a large part of her childhood. She also has a brother who was born deaf. For both reasons, the episode touches home for the writer.


She shared, "I am mixed-race; my father's Black and jazz was big in our house. We grew up in the suburbs, and it was a way for my dad to bring in that aspect of our culture. But when I think about music, I also think about my brother, who was born deaf. When we were talking about this Bleeding Gums character in our initial brainstorms, we thought, would it not be cool if Lisa discovers this whole other side of his life. That led to him having a son, and then we based that character at least somewhat on my brother. And the story grew from there."


The groundbreaking episode is only one of the more significant ways television is becoming more inclusive. In fact, the episode aired on the heels of deaf actor Troy Kotsur's historic Oscars victory last month. He took home the award for Best Supporting Actor for his work in "CODA," the film that ultimately won the Oscars award for Best Picture as well. The movie follows Ruby, the only hearing member of a deaf family from Gloucester, Massachusetts. At 17, she works mornings before school to help her parents and brother keep their fishing business afloat. But in joining her high school's choir club, Ruby finds herself drawn to both her duet partner and her latent passion for singing.


Sosthand expressed her deep appreciation for the film. "I was an early viewer of 'CODA' and really admire the movie," the writer explained. "There are themes in it that are somewhat echoed here, coming out of a sibling relationship. And also 'CODA' has the tension between music and the deaf experience. I think it is great because the deaf experience is not just one story, there are so many stories to be told." Hopefully, these powerful firsts signify what is yet to come for movies and television.


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